It is an old familiar conception that once a Filipino family member set foot in a foreign land, that very person becomes the “hope” who will pull the whole clan from financial adversities. They are the Overseas Filipinos (OF) and Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs). Whether we like it or not, oftentimes this is the case inasmuch as this is customarily the primary goal of most Filipinos who work abroad or hoping to go overseas.
The desire to improve the economic position of the family is so innate and is always instinctive to OFs and OFWs. To help, especially the struggling family members, is a noble thing to do. Unfortunately, sometimes their generosity backfires on them.
Many times, you will hear stories of OFs and OFWs who need to work overtime or grab extra shifts or work two to three jobs to be able to give regular allowance to the parents, send a niece to school, support a nephew’s sports interest, spend for another niece’s grand 7th birthday party, pay for the sister’s mounting debt, bail out a brother from ‘inevitable’ bankruptcy, renovate an adult son’s house, settle a cousin’s hospital bill, keep grandma’s maintenance of medications, foot the bill for Browny’s (the dog) food, or even fund a neighbor’s business venture. Time and again, the stories become an endless series of drama in which the OFs and OFWs are the heroes of the pathetic narration of the families’ infinite monetary requests. The former becomes the “bank”.
But why do some families do that? Why are they heavily dependent on their relatives abroad? Because some OFs and OFWs allow them to! In so many ways, whether they admit it or not, they themselves are enablers of this unwanted financial dependence of their opportunistic cognates. How?
1. They continue to send remittances even at the whim of their relatives. Sometimes, they are fully aware of where the money goes, but they give anyway. For instance, relatives would ask for new shoes, new clothes, new TV, new mobile phones, new this and that. And faster than the genie is to command these preposterous requests. Harsh to say but a friend of mine termed this kind of relatives “financial parasites” who may also be partly created by the OFs and OFWs themselves.
2. They do not set boundaries. They find it way too difficult to draw the line between what is just enough help and too much help. The latter, sadly is harmful. It facilitates more dependence and laziness. Oftentimes, over generosity keep family members from taking initiatives to better their own lives. Instead, this leads them to ruthlessly leach on their relatives abroad while they happily sit around and wait for the next remittance.
3. They feel guilty when they withhold money from loved ones. They think that because they are more capable of giving money that they are responsible to help all their relatives. As Suze Orman said in her financial wellness speech when she was invited to talk in the Philippines, “What’s unique to the Philippines is this built-in culture that one person could take care of a lot of people, a built-in culture that if you leave the Philippines and you go abroad to make money, it’s absolutely your obligation to send home that money whether you can afford to or not.” I believe this culture prevents some relatives in the Philippines to be responsible for their own financial well being.
4. They don’t disclose stories that aren’t that pretty. While it is true that the salary overseas can be multiple compared in the Philippine, the cost of living is also higher. Most Filipinos do not disclose to their families their real state of affair in foreign lands. Hence, little do they know how this ‘family banks’ relentlessly work their ass off, how they save every penny to send to the Philippines, how they are overly stingy to their own sustenance and how they have to keep their heads above the ground. Sometimes the struggle is inconceivable. For some, a short respite is farfetched and more often than not, they end up without savings. But still… they never tell them!
5. They brag about their salaries and their physical possessions. I had a flatmate who worked as a technician who I can use as he fits this bombastic materialistic gasbag category of some OFs and OFWs. On occasions that I heard him blowing his trumpet, he told his family that he bought a new car worth P3M (roughly NZ$85k. He was actually just planning to loan a new car at that time worth half of that figure. He boastfully announced that he got plenty of money to take himself to places. He was literally promising them heaven and earth. But never did he mention that then and again, he barely made ends meet, that he had become hobo for several months, that he got redundant from his job, and that he couldn’t pay his rent on time or couldn’t pay at all!.
6. They do not know how to say NO. The word NO is unknown in the lexicon of most Filipinos. Pakikisama (or getting along) is firmly embedded in the Filipino culture. In many cases, pakikisama is used beyond its intended meaning. Consequently, OFs and OFWs, though reluctant, say YES to every request or help the families back in the Philippines ask from them. They say yes even when they cannot afford to provide for the desires and wants of their relatives. They say yes even it means another overdraft in the bank or another loan on top of many outstanding loans. They say yes even if it poses them to inadvertently neglect their own needs for the nth time. As a result, the families in the Philippines hold this strong belief that money is easy abroad.
7. They display a high life when they go back home for holiday. Have you ever seen someone disembarking from a plane in Ninoy Aquino International Airport wearing knee-high boots and coat in midsummer or someone whose neck is wrapped with thick gold necklaces swaggering around? If that’s their preferred returning-home-with-a-blast-fashion look, that is perfectly fine. However, if the intention is to show off, that is a different story and sadly, it is a scene that some OFs and OFWs display on purpose when they take their vacation in the Philippines. Their arrival is the commencement of quick emptying of wallet in an autopilot. They start treating everyone, even people that they barely know, to restaurants, take the whole clan for outings and buy them stuff as requested. When some friends and acquaintances of OFs and OFWs, whom they have never spoken to in decades, knock on their doors with their well prepared narratives of struggles, the former usually joyfully leave with free money in their hands. Parties after parties are thrown with numerous giveaways! Just after a few days , the pockets start to hemorrhage! However, the saga of swiping that small plastic card continue and the showmen remain in the center stage… until it’s time to leave again to toil all day and all night in a foreign land. More often than not, they leave with blown up budget.
OFs and OFWs help with the best intentions in their hearts. To help is good. It certainly makes the receiver and the giver happy. But for those who give way too much, I think they have to start contemplating that they are actually breeding deadbeat humans in their clan. It absolutely takes two to tango. Blame is not only to the dependents. Giving in to every whim of relatives stem to overreliance that subsequently creates codependence. That is when OFs and OFWs become enabler of heavy financial dependence of relatives. That is when helping becomes dangerous.